WORTHINGTON — After he applied for a job as director of bands at Worthington High School, Mike Thompson refused to apply for any other position until he heard back from Worthington.

“I didn’t want to jinx it because I wanted this job so bad,” he recalled, sitting in his office at WHS, surrounded by neatly arranged sousaphones.

He got it, and now he’s teaching 135 students in the "Spirit of Worthington" Trojan Marching Band and pep band as well as a class of guitar students. As the year progresses, he’ll be teaching concert band as well as jazz band, and he’ll likely get more guitar students too.

Thompson graduated from St. Clair High School, just outside Mankato, and then earned his bachelor’s degree from Minnesota State University Mankato.

After he graduated, he started teaching sixth-graders at Waseca Intermediate School, where he had already student-taught.

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Mike Thompson, director of bands at Worthington High School, stands among the sousaphones, some with their bell covers on, in his office Friday. (Kari Lucin / The Globe)
Mike Thompson, director of bands at Worthington High School, stands among the sousaphones, some with their bell covers on, in his office Friday. (Kari Lucin / The Globe)

But he had wanted to teach music since he was in high school, and one evening he got a call from colleague Michael Thursby, the director of athletic bands at MSUM, who told Thompson he’d be a great fit for the Worthington band program.

Thompson had worked with the WHS band before, when he had helped out with high school band clinics at MSUM as a college student. So, he applied for the position — and then he did some additional research on the school and its music program, even asking someone on the staff about the program.

The answers he got made him certain WHS was where he wanted to be.

After working with the students, he’s even more certain.

“These are the biggest group of hard-working high school students I’ve ever seen in my whole life,” Thompson said. “I say ‘Jump’ and they say ‘How high?’”

As with any class, there has been a learning curve for new material, and there are always things to work on, but overall, Thompson said, they are a fun group of students to be around, and they work very hard.

“They make me want to show up every day for work,” Thompson said. “... there’s just a sense of community about them that I didn’t really have to try to build.”

He believes it’s a product of the community of Worthington as a whole, as he’s worked with marching bands elsewhere around the state that don’t have those same qualities.

“They want to be good. They know they’re good, and they want to continue being good, so they want to continue putting in the work,” Thompson said. “It’s not a blind following. They know what they want and they’re willing to work to get it.”

He’s received support from other band teachers in District 518, but also from his fellow music teachers, who he described as “incredibly supportive.”

Mike Thompson, director of bands at Worthington High School, stands with his mentor, Mike Thursby, director of athletic bands and percussion for Minnesota State University Mankato, on Friday. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)
Mike Thompson, director of bands at Worthington High School, stands with his mentor, Mike Thursby, director of athletic bands and percussion for Minnesota State University Mankato, on Friday. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

Thompson also called in his mentor Thursby to help him prepare students in the WHS drum corps for a special performance on the new Trojan Field for Friday night's dedication. Thursby visited the class and worked with the student percussionists Friday on a piece composed to be played on trash cans at half time.

Music students benefit from hearing feedback from other instructors because instructors teach differently, and one way of saying something could “click” for someone who didn’t understand it before. Additionally, while band teachers are familiar with a wide variety of musical instruments, Thompson’s main instruments are the French horn and the trumpet, and Thursby is a percussionist.

“That’s going to help them get a little more excited for it,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be good for them.”